Close encounters of the furry kind

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Students feeling stressed look for ways to lower anxieties over the end of term and upcoming assignments. Now, there is a more “paws-on” approach to reducing stress.

On Monday, April 7, 2014, dog handlers will be bringing their four-legged companions to UNB as part of the “Paws On Program” designed to help students combat anxiety and worry over exams.

From 11:30am until 1pm student will have the opportunity to come pet and interact with therapy dogs in the foyer of the Ward Chipman building.

Kevin Bonner, the director of student services at UNB Saint John, explains the event is intended to be a “break for students” during this stressful time of the academic year. “The visit by the dogs will allow students to drop by and spend some time visiting and talking with the handlers about their dogs and the work they do in the community.”

According to the non-profit Therapeutic Paws of Canada, dog therapy is designed as a more personal, interactive approach to lowering stress.

As explained on their website, “Students welcome the chance to interact with our therapy teams. It allows the students to put the pressure of studying and exams to one side whilst they spend time with the animals. Students often share stories of their own family pets and for a moment can refocus on something other than the challenges of exam week. They can also talk to the Student Services counselors and other staff about stress management and the services and programs we offer.”

Mike Wilson, an Education student, agrees that the Paws On Program has a useful approach to helping student cope with stress. “I would say that playing with and spending time with animals can be incredibly comforting and calming and sounds like an excellent thing to do around exam time,” he says.

This idea to reducing stress is not a new concept. As Bonner explains, dog therapy has been around for years and gained a following among Canadian universities and colleges. Therapeutic Paws of Canada says it also reaches out to secondary schools and corporate bodies. “This type of event has taken place on other campuses over the years with a good response from students and participants,” Bonner says.

Although he identifies as “an ardent cat lover,” Michael Crate, a 4th year student, supports the idea of Dog Therapy. “I think it is a great outreach program by student services to bring in non-traditional forms of relaxation for students to have the change to participate in,” he says. “It also provides the counselors with the opportunity to be indirectly exposed to the students and vise versa, so they know who they are. And of course, it’s lots of fun!”

Kyle Roberts believes the concept would be helpful in reducing students’ stress levels. “I’ve heard of it being effective in other institutions, and if we could bring it to our campus, I really can’t think of any negative repercussions, as long as proper precautions (via allergy concerns) are undertaken,” he says. “I love dogs and can’t think of a better way to relieve stress than hanging out with lovable fluffy animals.”